A SOUR DEAL TURNED SWEET
It was the summer of 1989 and I was parked in my car in front of the old H.E.B. store on University Ave. in Georgetown Texas. I had just placed my real estate sign on the doors of my car and they looked pretty good. Suddenly a black man who looked to be in his late sixties or seventies approached me and introduced himself as Manuel Miller. He was walking with a cane and was also wearing dark colored glasses. He and his wife had come to Georgetown to buy their groceries and they were about ready to leave for home. He said that they lived in Liberty Hill. His wife Loraine was driving their vehicle which was on old pickup truck. She had to do all the driving because Manuel was not seeing well and could not get his license renewed. He had arthritis in his hip which explained the use of the cane. Mr. Miller then told me that they had about 55 acres south of Liberty Hill that they wanted to sell and assumed that I was a Realtor from the sign on my car. He asked me if I could sell it for them. I told him that I was in the land selling business and had sold several ranches in the Liberty Hill area. Then he told me that their place had some river frontage on the South San Gabriel River. Sounded like something I would enjoy selling. He said that he would like to show it to me then if I was free to go. I admitted that I was not doing anything special. If he and Loraine were ready to go I was ready. They mentioned that they had to go through Liberty Hill and she would drop off the groceries and go along with us. It was also agreed that Manuel would ride with me so I could learn more about the property as we went along. When we got to Liberty Hill we went to their home which was a modified "Shot Gun" house of early vintage and not in the most desirable part of town. When she unloaded the groceries she put on some rubber boots and insisted that we all go in the pickup. This suited me as I like to have both husband and wife together so that the decisions would be in agreement and final. We got on the Baghdad Road and headed south for a couple of miles or so. I then found out why she insisted on going in the truck. We turned off on what looked like an old wagon road that had been used for hauling cedar posts out on. I was glad I did not take my car onto this road because it had several high centers. After awhile we came to a wire gap that served as the gate to the property. After that we soon came to an old unpainted frame house that did not have the appearance of being lived in for a long time, except for deer hunters. They mentioned that they had once lived there and I merely said that I could understand why, they no longer did with the bad road and having to open that gap every day. She said that was not the reason. It was because of the company they had every night. When asked what kind of company she referred to. She said that ghosts riding white horses would go along the river, with blue lights on their heads. They didn't do any harm but she was scared. From the cabin we went down to the river. I was anxious to see something that was on the positive side. To my surprise it was very pretty. The land included a bend in the river with a deep hole of clear water below a rock ledge. It was almost inviting and under different circumstances I would have dived in for a swim. Next to this hole of water was an old field that ran along the river for about 600 ft. This had been in cultivation at some time. At this time it was used to pasture the neighbor’s cows. They said this gave them some spending money, but not much. The rest of the 55 acres was mostly on the side of a hill that was covered with a second growth cedar. All the virgin cedar had been removed long ago. That part did not look good at all. I don't usually ask a client why they want to sell, but since they seemed to be in such a hurry I asked the question. Then I learned that the Liberty Hill School list was foreclosing on them for not paying their taxes. I learned later that they were in arrears to the sum of over $25,000. I also learned that they had never applied for an Agriculture Exemption for the land, and the place was eligible for one. When I asked Manuel why he had not paid the taxes or applied for an Ag exemption he answered that he didn't think he should have to pay taxes since his grandfather had donated the land where the school was built, and besides he worked for the school driving a bus and doing janitor work. In addition he just did not want to fool with all that paper stuff. He said that his neighbor had tried to get him to take care of the taxes but he felt that it wasn't right for him to have to pay and he didn't do anything that he thought wasn't right. Before leaving the land I casually asked if those rubber boots that Loraine wore were not a bit hot in that summer heat. She then said that anyone going on this place had better wear rubber boots that would deflect a rattlesnake bite. At this point I hoped that I did not have to take her along while showing this land to some prospective buyer. With the ghosts and snakes it would surely kill the deal if I ever got that far. After previewing the land I asked the Millers what kind of money they were looking for from their land. The answer was that half of what the Williamson County Appraisal Board had valued it for tax purposes. It seemed that the Board was still using the figures from the early eighties when land went sky high-which was something under $200,000. Even half of that would be hard to sell. My next question was about the road easement as to whether anything was recorded that would give the Millers the right to drive through someone else’s land. They did not think there was, but that land had belonged to another member of the Miller family and they said it was alright. But now it belonged to someone else, but so far no one had voiced any objection to their coming and going. I knew then that I had a real obstacle to overcome. To get an easement described and recorded by prescription takes a court order and that takes time. Not many people want to buy a lawsuit, and that is a fact. At this point I decided I had better dig deeper and find out what other problems might be lurking in the dark. So I asked Mr. Miller if he had a deed to this land. He said he did and produced an old hand written deed that was recorded in 1906 when the grandfather deeded it to his father who was Marion Miller. I do not have the grand father's name, but he is buried in the Miller Cemetery along side of the Baghdad road with the rest of the Millers who used to have holdings of land in what is known as the Miller Community. I am wondering if Manuel even owned the land. With these two factors to iron out I felt that the best thing for me to do was gracefully throw up my hands and walk away from it all - but I didn't. Instead, I had the Millers sign a listing agreement for $95,000 and went back to Georgetown wondering what to do next. I knew I had to get some good legal advice and I could think of none other than my good friend Skip Morse. Skip had done several real estate transactions for me in the past and I think he was about the best. When I finished telling him all the gory facts, he said that we had better find out how many heirs old Marion Miller had, and how to contact the. Not knowing, I envisioned maybe a hundred or so heirs that had to be dug up. The likelihood of getting them to sign away their rights to anything that looked like money could be a real problem. Skip found that Marion Miller had two children, Manuel and his brother who moved to California. He also learned that this brother had died as well as his wife and they had no children and both died Intestate - without a will. How lucky can you get? This meant that Manuel Miller was the sole heir. Meanwhile I ran an ad in the Austin American Statesman and waited. We still had the easement to deal with, but I went ahead as if nothing was awry - low and behold – I got a call from a Mr. W. L. James from Austin who saw my ad in the paper. He said that he had recently purchased some land along the Baghdad road north of Leander, Texas. He was wondering if it might touch his or at least be close by. The next day I met Mr. James in my Ram Charger and we went directly to the land. When he saw where it lay he said that it joined him the full length and was ready to put a contract on it for the full price, providing we could deliver him a clear deed that would be guaranteed by a Title Company. He saw that this tract would be a great asset in having all the land from the road to the river. With a contract in hand, we had to find a surveyor who could do a rush job of surveying the land to meet the deadline before it was to be sold on the south side of the Court House on the first Tuesday of the next month, which was only three weeks away. Mr. Sultemeyer of Round Mountain was the man. He got right on it and got the survey with a new plat for the buyer. The Georgetown Title Co closed the transaction on a Friday before the Coming Tuesday which was the dead line. The Liberty Hill School said that they hated to do this to the Millers, but the pressure was put on them and they had no choice, but they were glad to get the money and not have to take the land over. The Millers were happy and seemed most grateful for our having sold their land. They would not be getting any more tax notices and had money to carry them free of worry along with a retirement check from the School and some Social Security. Skip and I were happy to get this job done so easily because we both did our work at a reduced rate. Feeling that we had done a bit of charity - we felt that because of ignorance they had been dealt a harsh blow. To further show how grateful the Millers were they couldn't wait to tell me a week later that they had found a buyer for their home in Liberty Hill and bought a house in Georgetown from another Realtor who also had sign on his car.